A design approach for self-directed learning: Part 1

Shifting topics a bit from tech tools, I wanted to share my process for developing an online learning resource for health information consumers—today’s ePatients. In Part 1 of this article, I describe my basic instructional design approach for tackling this challenge.

The learning  opportunity

Today’s patients have access to an unprecedented amount of online health care information. However, many lack the knowledge and skills to use online resources effectively. Despite the fact that 80% of Americans generally use the internet to obtain health information (Fox, 2010), the American Medical Association (AMA) (2007) estimates that nearly 50% of Americans have health literacy challenges. The AMA reports that patients with poor health literacy are more likely to be hospitalized than others, significantly increasing health care costs.

Creating an enduring online learning resource

The goal of the resource, delivered through the  “Becoming a Participating Patient” microsite,  is to change individuals from being health care consumers (i.e., a target of advertisers) to being health information learners who are able to problem solve and use online tools to tap into larger social networks and partner with their physicians to take charge of their own health care.

Although the Participating Patient Web site can be used as a stand-alone instructional resource for self-guided learning, I also created an instructor’s guide for anyone who wants to use the site to complement an instructor-led course. There’s more about the learning theories I considered in the guide.

The target learners

Development of this site was guided by an analysis of my target learners.

Typical learners:

  • Are motivated to research their health conditions and use online resources to do so
  • Are generally able to search the Internet but are often unable to evaluate the credibility of their search results
  • Vary in their level of education (average literacy range: 6th-8th grade)
  • Feel “rushed” or “intimidated” when discussing their health care concerns with their health care providers
  • Are generally unaware of how to create a personal health record and are uncertain how to interpret/use electronic health care records
  • Desire to participate in treatment decisions but feel bewildered by prescription information, self-care options, and insurance challenges
  • Are unaware of social networking tools and patient advocacy groups that can support and assist them as they weigh treatment decisions and navigate insurance challenges

My design approach

As you can see from my design approach,  illustrated below, although I do believe in ADDIE, I haven’t used a linear process in this case. There was quite a bit of upfront analysis to see what my target audience could benefit from the most. I also tried to take into account affective components that might influence learners (e.g., their potential lack of confidence in their ability to find and then use health information appropriately).

An instructional design approach

The objectives I came up with can be found on the landing page for each of four modules that ultimately became part of the site. In Part 2 of this article, I’ll describe these modules and my development process in more detail.


American  Medical Association. (2007). Health literacy and patient safety: Help patients understand. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from http://classes.kumc.edu/general/amaliteracy/AMA_NEW3.swf

Fox, S. (2010, May 5). The power of data and the power of one. Pew Internet. Retrieved May 5, 2010  from http://www.pewinternet.org/topics/Health.aspx


One response to “A design approach for self-directed learning: Part 1

  1. Pingback: A design approach for self-directed learning: Part 2 « Instructional Design Fusions

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